CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The little things that Virginia coach Tony Bennett preaches about doing are starting to add up to regular victories, and the fact that his freshman-heavy team is starting to find its comfort zone is helping a great deal, too.
Joe Harris scored 22 points, seven during a game-ending 13-6 run, and Virginia’s nationally ranked defense slowed No. 19 North Carolina State’s ACC-best offense just enough in a 58-55 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ fourth straight victory.
One game after freshman Justin Anderson led the way for Virginia, fellow freshman Mike Tobey had a huge hand in the victory with 13 points and, more importantly against the long, athletic Wolfpack, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
“Mike’s continuing to improve and he’s certainly a threat on the block,” Bennett said, glancing at the stat line for his 6-foot-11 center. “And I love it that he had seven rebounds. That’s a good step. He’s put together three real nice games.”
Akil Mitchell added 14 points and 12 rebounds for Virginia (15-5, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), including an 18-foot jumper that put them ahead to stay with 3:53 remaining, before the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense (51.1) closed it out.
“We knew the first half, we didn’t play particularly well offensively, but at the same time we didn’t feel like we played our best defensive half either,” Harris said after Virginia trailed 31-24 at the break. “They kind of just bullied us around and out-toughed us.”
North Carolina State (16-5, 5-3), which arrived averaging nearly 80 points per game, became the 17th team, including all seven ACC opponents, to be held under 60 points by Virginia.
C.J. Leslie, playing despite being under the weather, led the Wolfpack with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Richard Howell had 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Leslie missed what would have been a tying free throw with 3:20 left, and when the Wolfpack fouled Jontel Evans as he tried to dribble time off the clock with 26 seconds left, Evans made them both.
Earlier, Evans drew a foul on a 30-foot heave at the end of the first half, drawing three shots. He missed them all.
“My concentration was unbelievable. I was focused. I went through my progressions, I tuned out the crowd, the score and everything,” Evans said. “Those were probably the biggest two free throws of my entire career.”
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried wasn’t pleased that his team fouled in that situation.
“That is not a good play,” he said. “You just can’t make that play. … We needed to get a defensive stop.”
The Wolfpack never got off a good shot in the closing seconds.
N.C. State also suffered a critical loss midway through the first half when point guard Lorenzo Brown limped off with what appeared to be a left ankle injury. He got medical attention on the bench, went to the locker room, came back and got more attention and wanted to give it a go, but he appeared significantly hobbled and didn’t return.
“Obviously losing Lorenzo is a tough hurdle for our team to get over, but I thought they battled through that very well,” Gottfried said. “We did a lot of things well. We didn’t execute nearly as well as we should have late in the game and we also had some opportunities where we had the ball right around the rim and we just couldn’t score it.”
After Harris put Virginia ahead 52-49, Leslie hit two free throws. Harris’ drive made it 54-51 and Scott Wood’s 3-pointer with 4:20 to go tied it.
Mitchell’s jumper restored Virginia’s lead with 3:53 left, and a free throw by Leslie with 3:20 to go was all the Wolfpack could manage over the last 4 minutes of the game.
Trailing for the first 27 1-2 minutes, Virginia finally went ahead on Tobey’s 15-foot jumper with 12:26 to play. The game was tied at 40 and 42 before a dunk by Leslie, Wood’s 3-pointer and Howell’s drive more than negated Evan Nolte’s 3-pointer for Virginia, putting N.C. State ahead 49-45.
But Virginia drew even again with the help of two turnovers as Harris hit two free throws and Tobey scored underneath.
Harris then got T.J. Warren into the air from the left corner, jumped and leaned into him, drew the foul and three shots. He made them all, giving Virginia a 52-49 lead.
That set up the finish.